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The Kansas Approach to Assisting Local Governments with Planning
By Thomas C. Dow, AICP (June 1999)



  Raymond J. Burby and Peter J. May emphatically conclude in Making Governments Plan that "state planning mandates do matter," and that these mandates "affect the structure, content, and quality of local plans (p. 115)." They define state planning mandates as the "legislation, administrative rules, and executive orders that require or provide inducements for specified local government planning and development management actions (p. 14)." They also describe a continuum of state planning mandate implementation styles ranging from formal and legalistic to informal and flexible. The formal and legalistic implementation style requires state agency review of local plans and the imposition of sanctions when the local plans do not meet state requirements. The informal and flexible implementation style involves the state provision of funds, training, and technical assistance to local governments to build their capacity for planning (p. 16).

  In 1991, the Kansas Legislature enacted the Community Strategic Planning Assistance Act. The purpose of this act was to provide financial assistance to the ninety-nine "non-metropolitan" counties to encourage the development and implementation of "county-wide economic development strategy plans." In 1994, the Kansas Legislature amended this act providing a second purpose and included funding to neighborhood development organizations in the six "metropolitan" counties to encourage the development and implementation of "neighborhood revitalization strategy plans."

  The program sunset for the non-metropolitan counties on June 30, 1997. One year later, the program sunset for the metropolitan counties. From 1991 to 1998, the State of Kansas spent over $4 million assisting local communities with planning.

  Subsequently, the State of Kansas established a new program called the Community Capacity Building Grant Program. To date, no statutes have been enacted by the Kansas Legislature for this program. However, funding has continued uninterrupted for planning through the state's annual budgetary process. In the absence of a state legislative planning mandate, the implementation style the State of Kansas is using is best described as informal and flexible. Experience indicates that several things are needed to make this approach effective:

  • State funding for planning,
  • State established planning quality standards,
  • State planning staff review of the local plan once it is completed,
  • State established professional planner qualifications standards,
  • State provided technical assistance for planning,
  • Planning as a prerequisite to funding for certain projects, and
  • The establishment and maintenance of strong partnerships between the state planning agency, other state agencies, federal agencies, and local governments.

  State funding for planning does not need to be substantial. A relatively small state budget for planning during the initial years of the state planning program can have an enormous impact on planning throughout the state. To accomplish this, the state planning agency must celebrate local planning successes by nominating exceptional plans for awards, by publicizing local planning accomplishments in the agency's newsletter and other media, and by helping communities obtain state funding for the projects proposed in the plan. In this way, successful planning efforts become models for other communities to emulate. State funding for planning should leverage local funding to ensure local commitment to the planning process. At a minimum, the local government should pay at least ten to twenty-five percent of the total cost of developing the plan.

  The state agency providing the assistance must establish standards for plan quality to which the local governments receiving the assistance must adhere as contractual conditions of receiving the assistance. These standards should be developed cooperatively with and endorsed by other state and federal agencies to avoid duplicative planning requirements whenever possible. This is critical as more and more state and federal agencies are offering assistance to communities or requiring planning by local communities. Planning standards essentially regulate the output of the planning process. Communities must be made aware of what the standards are before they receive any assistance from the state planning agency. Once the community completes the plan, but before it formally adopts the plan, the state planning agency should review the plan document to determine if the plan meets the established planning quality standards. Any deficiencies should be identified along with what is needed to correct the deficiencies.


  The state should maintain a list of "qualified professional planners" to assist communities without professional planners on staff with selecting and engaging the services of a qualified professional planning consultant. Another use for the list is to maximize the potential for effective use of limited state resources by preventing totally unqualified persons from being hired to perform professional planning services. Rules governing removal from the list should be established at the outset. The professional planner qualifications standards could be in the form of state licensing for planners as New Jersey and Michigan currently require. However, membership in the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) would be more feasible in the forty-eight states that do not currently license planners. Such standards regulate one of the key inputs into the planning process.

  The state planning agency should provide technical assistance to make sure the communities and their planners understand what is required to satisfy state requirements. Qualified professional planners must provide the technical assistance, and there should be an adequate number on staff relative to the number of communities being assisted. A meeting between the community officials, the qualified professional planner and the state planning staff should occur before the planning process is initiated and several times during the planning process. Because the state is providing financial and technical resources, it is a key stakeholder in the local planning process and it should be viewed by the community as its partner in the process. The provision of technical assistance should not stop when the plan is completed, but rather should continue through the communities' initial plan implementation efforts. At this point, the state planning agency should help the community identify and obtain financial assistance from other state and federal agencies for projects that are consistent with those proposed in the plan.

  To encourage communities to participate, the state should link the provision of other financial assistance to the completion and subsequent adoption of plans that meet or exceed the state established planning standards whether or not the community has received state assistance to develop the plan. This linkage between planning and funding for projects essentially becomes an "administrative mandate to plan." In other words, if a community wants access to state funds for specific projects, then the projects proposed must be consistent with a locally developed, state approved plan. This requirement should be phased in over time, but should be publicized as to when it will go into affect several years before it does to allow communities adequate time to prepare acceptable plans.

  The state planning agency must establish strong and effective partnerships with other state agencies, federal agencies, and local governments. The state planning agency should be the conduit for federal funding to the state for planning or when the assistance goes directly from the federal agency to the local government, the state planning agency must be partner with the federal agency in selecting the participating communities. The state agency must be able to help the local government with identifying and obtaining funding for plan implementation projects when appropriate. The state planning agency must be responsive to the needs of the other state and federal agencies as well as the local governments. Likewise, when called upon, the staffs of other state and federal agencies should be available to provide technical assistance to the local governments during the planning process.

  If you have questions about the Kansas planning program, please feel free to contact:

Thomas C. Dow, AICP
Community Planning Programs Manager
Kansas Department of Commerce & Housing
700 SW Harrison, Suite 1300
Topeka, KS 66603-3712
phone: (785) 296-3485
fax: (785) 296-0186


Burby, Raymond J. and Peter J. May, 1997. Making Governments Plan: State Experiments in Managing Land Use, Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins University Press.

last updated: 07.25.2003.1305